Sasha Grey is on the right path. Since leaving her adult film past behind, she's been laser-focused on seeking out work with innovative and personal directors, challenging narratives, and emotionally evocative roles.
In her latest film, Open Windows (in theaters today and currently available on VOD), Grey plays within the twisted, hardwired mind of Spanish director Nacho Vigalondo, the crazy man behind one of the most confounding and amazing sci-fi films of recent memory, Timecrimes (2008). Open Windows utilizes a framework we’re all familiar with: the Internet. Through the “open windows” on star Elijah Wood’s laptop, the audience gets sucked into a vortex of celebrity, mind games, and cyber stalkers that couldn’t be more current and relevant in today’s “all access” culture.
We caught up with Sasha Grey to discuss Internet privacy, celebrity nude leaks, and crazed fans.
How did you get involved with “Madman” Nacho Vigalondo?
[Laughs.] Madman Nacho! I like that! I was actually a fan of Nacho’s from Timecrimes and I heard he was working on a new movie. My former manager actually knew his manager, so I said, “You have to get me a copy of the script. I want to put myself out there.” I thought it was really cool, and they actually sent me an animatic [storyboard] along with it. They had already shot what some of the film would look like. A lot of what you see is all developed from the ground up—they’re not using any real databases or operating systems. I got to meet with Nacho and we just sort of stayed in touch and, over a few months, they decided to cast me.
We all live in “open windows” now. This might be the first movie I’ve watched entirely on my own computer screen, not a big theater screen, and it actually feels like the most natural way to view it.
A lot of people have said that actually. It enhances the experience. I’ve only watched it once and I saw it with an audience so maybe I’ll have to re-watch it that way.
Are you a purist? What do you think about the theatrical vs. mobile experience when watching movies?
I’m sort of a purist. I’m not a snob, obviously. I have two tablets and a computer, so when one is dead I switch on the other one. But I do like the experience of seeing a film with an audience. It creates a different atmosphere and you’re able to enjoy in a different way. It’s not the same as viewing something on your own on a flight or on the computer. It serves its purpose but it’s not something I enjoy doing all the time.
The way Open Windows was shot is really intriguing. There are several points where it feels very much like being within a surveillance system. How cool was it to shoot that way as opposed to something more intimate like Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience?
It was really bizarre. Most of the time, for us as actors, we were shooting alone. The opening scene was one of the few scenes where it felt like a traditional fit, so it was really challenging to just be there alone or have Elijah [Wood] or Neil [Maskell], my other co-star, off the set, where I was just hearing their voice from far away. It was very strange at first and it took a couple days to get used to it. Nacho was there all the time to make sure we understood exactly what was happening.
I recall one of the first days on set, there were, like, 16 cameras shooting at once and because of that once we found a performance that worked or a tone that worked, and we had to stick to that. There wasn’t really room for improvising.
It’s an interesting challenge. It’s not a traditional Take One, Take Two scenario.
Exactly. Once you commit to a performance you can’t really go back—you have to stick to it.
This movie plays like a blogger’s wet dream turned nightmare. You started your career online, so does this film feel oddly personal to you?
You would think so, maybe because of my past, but I connected with the feeling of having your privacy or your space invaded and that threat that you know isn’t always something you can control. That was closer to me than anything else.
Are you actively seeking out roles that aren’t traditional?
Well, the approach that I try to take when I can is to reach out to people that I admire and appreciate. That’s much easier to do with films like this, whereas the studio system is a whole other beast. It’s not as easy to get a hold of somebody and develop a relationship with them—like, “Hey, I have this idea,” or, “Hey, what do you think about this?”
That’s what I did with Nacho. Nacho lives in Spain and I’ve never spoken to him in my life. I was able to get a hold of the script and not just read it but actually meet him. That’s sometimes easier to do on an independent level, from my experience at least.
It’s a very timely movie, considering all the current celebrity nude leaks and cyber stalkers. What’s your take on that situation, as someone who has controlled their own image for business purposes or for creative purposes? Does it frighten you?
Yeah, it frightens me. It’s an unfortunate circumstance of using the Internet for any individual, whether you’re in the public eye or not. A lot of attention has been drawn to this because it’s celebrity. I hope that these individuals and more individuals can come together and implement new laws in a very fast way and create change that otherwise would take much longer.
Imagine if you’re a mother, you have a good job, you work for a corporate company, and somehow a nude photo you sent to your significant other gets leaked. You’re going to lose your job because you probably work for a corporate company with family values. These “normal types” of individuals don’t have the resources and the access to the money to bounce back and take control of their lives again. It might be hard for them to find another job to replace what they lost and had taken from them. I really hope that the upside of this is that change can happen faster.
Well, with people like Jennifer Lawrence saying it's a "sex crime," hopefully it does come along quicker. Do you agree that it’s a sex crime?
I do agree. It’s a violation of everybody’s privacy that has been a victim of this. Just because it’s not a physical assault... It's still an emotional one.
Your character in Open Windows, Jill Goddard, isn’t very nice at the beginning. In real life fans often get upset when a celebrity will cancel a planned event or a meet-up and they instantly react. They get blasted on Twitter or whatever other social media platform. Can you talk a little about the character and how unlikable she is at first? Did you decide to play her like that?
I did. The opening scene is sort of a strange one. Nacho and I had discussed the character and how she’s the bad girl of Hollywood and how everybody loved to hate her. Her public reputation outweighs her reputation as an actress and, at that point in the film, she’s actually trying to remove herself from all of that and change because she feels like she’s never really been in control of her life. She has always allowed other people to make decisions for her because she became an actress at a very young and vulnerable age.
So when this happens, she just feels like no matter what she does, the people around her are still like poison—they’re still trying to draw her in. They want her to stay that way because it’s better for business. There are a lot layers and complications, but that’s where we meet her. The people reading this will see the film and will understand that she is trying to change and have good intentions.
That vulnerability does come through. I would hate for anyone to say, “She’s a bitch and deserves everything that's coming to her.” How did we get to this point? Are fans and publicists dictating too much of how an artist lives and works?
That’s a constant struggle and I don’t know if there’s any one right answer. I’ve worked with really great publicists and I’ve worked for publicists or with publicists who I didn’t really understand or agree with their message of working. In the end, I think part of it is up to you as an individual to learn how you want to play the game. You can either go along with it and let people make the choice for you or try to be more proactive. It’s never easy and sometimes you get it wrong.
Do some people live by the fans too much? I don’t know. For me, personally speaking, I always try to appreciate and pay respect to my fans but also balance it and stay true to myself.